On Friday, the White House announced that it is holding a Big Block of Cheese Day again. It will happen on the Internet on Jan. 21, the day after President Obama's State of the Union address. For the second year in a row, they called in executive branch staffers with better approval ratings than those working in the Obama administration -- former cast members of the West Wing -- to explain the origin of the event and help popularize the event's hashtag, #asktheWH.
For the second year in a row, we will share the reasons why we at the Fix think this is a bad idea. It is not only because of the very moldy jokes about cheese repeated in the video above.
For those rusty on their American history trivia (or 90s television) the first Big Block of Cheese Day was held by President Andrew Jackson on February 22, 1837. He invited the public to the White House to enjoy a 1,400 pound block of cheese, given to the president as a gift by a dairy farmer from Upstate New York. It was a bit of an impromptu event -- according to Mental Floss, Jackson had tried to get rid of the cheddar by giving it away to his friends and colleagues in chunks. After exhausting his social circles, he probably still had enough to make macaroni-and-cheese for all of Congress. He was heading out of office soon, so inviting the whole nation for a final party seemed the most elegant solution.
The second two Big Block of Cheese Days were held by President Jed Bartlet, in the West Wing episodes "The Crackpots and These Women" and "Somebody's Going to Emergency, Somebody's Going to Jail." In Aaron Sorkin's mind, Andrew Jackson's desperate attempt to disappear massive amounts of cheddar in the most efficient way possible takes on a more idealistic note -- the public is invited to visit the president and air their grievances, basically "We the People" with better photo ops. The West Wing model seems to be the one that the current White House is borrowing -- especially since Jay Carney invited Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford) and Will Bailey (Josh Malina) to help with the announcement.
This all seems like a bad idea. Here are five reasons why.
5. "Big Block of Cheese Day" is also known as "Total Crackpot Day"
In the first West Wing episode that features "Big Block of Cheese Day" in season one, Communications Director Toby Ziegler calls the event "Throw Open Our Office Doors To People Who Want To Discuss Things That We Could Care Less About Day." Deputy Chief of Staff calls it "Total Crackpot Day." One staffer was forced to listen to a UFO conspiracy theorist. In the Big Block of Cheese Day that happened in Season Two, the press secretary had to listen to the Organization of Cartographers for Social Equality. Granted, this is a fictional show but ...
4. The Big Block of Cheese Day isn't happening at the White House. It's happening on the Internet.
The public is being asked to submit their questions for the Obama administration via Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and Google+. Here is a sample question from the event's first hour of existence.
— Zainab Javed (@zrjaved) January 24, 2014
3. Trying to curry favor off the fumes of West Wing loyalty is dangerous.
Have you seen The Newsroom?
2. Andrew Jackson is not exactly the best person to consult for party guidance.
Jackson's cheese fest wasn't the first big public party he threw at the White House. At his inauguration, he also invited America to his place -- this time for punch. According to the Wall Street Journal, one witness described the scene thusly, "The President was literally pursued by a motley concourse of people, riding, running helter-skelter, striving who should first gain admittance into the executive mansion, where it was understood that refreshments were to be distributed." When they got to the executive mansion, glasses were broken, furniture was tossed about, and the punch was spilled. Transparency: 1; Presidential home decor: 0
1. After the first Big Block of Cheese Day, the White House smelled like cheese for weeks.
People in Washington called it “an evil-smelling horror,”according to Mental Floss. When Martin Van Buren moved into the house soon after, the curtains needed to be replaced, the walls needed to be repainted, and the carpets needed to be aired out for "many days." On the other hand, it doesn't seem like the White House plans to feature an actual dairy products during their virtual "open house" (that might go against the "Let's Move" code). In that case, what's the point of calling it Big Block of Cheese Day? They could have at least made the hashtag for the event #cheese, since #AsktheWH is a bit bland. Or maybe it will all work. As Jed Bartlet said at the end of the first West Wing public airing of grievances, "You all start out so cynical, but it never fails. By the end of the day, there’s always one or two converts, right?" The lesson? Cheese always wins.